GSD Scrummy has a mind of his ownScrummy is a magnificent 14-month old adolescent German Shepherd. He lives with two other male GSDs with a lady who has had several Shepherds over the years – but never one quite like Scrummy!

He has always been wilful. Here is another dog that has had plenty of basic dog training at classes, but understanding commands alone isn’t the answer. All three dogs are quite excitable and liable to redirect onto one another. There is a feeling of competition between them, with the oldest, Blitz, hanging onto his lead role (for now). I fear that Scrummy is becoming a contender and if all of them don’t calm down and have more respect for their humans, real conflict could develop between them.

Over the past few weeks Scrummy’s already challenging and controlling behaviour has become more worrying. He has developed rather a strange reaction to human hands. When someone has been touching him and the hand is taken away or a hand is moved past him – say someone has reached for something – he goes not for the hand but leaps up at the person’s face and snaps – so far only snapping the air. The lady is very afraid that he’s becoming aggressive, but I don’t think so. Surely aggression involves a particular intent or state of mind? There is no snarling, no hackling and no fear involved. It’s more like a desire to control and a conditioned reaction which needs to be replaced with something better. I watched the teenage daughter playing with him, and when she took her hand away he automatically went to snap at it. I could see there was absolutely no ‘aggressive’ intent.

I did a ‘personal space’ test, and although he comes near and is friendly, he doesn’t actively want to be touched. People assume that a dog standing beside them is asking to be touched – but that’s not necessarily the case.  ‘Just because I’m near you and friendly doesn’t mean I want your hand on me’. Added to this, Scrummy has a very strong prey drive and is extremely reactive to movement – including to hands moving past his face. Also uncontrolled, excitable jumping up has been unintentionally encouraged. I believe it’s a question of working on a calmer environment, and teaching him some self-control and manners.  He can’t both keep his feet on the floor and jump up at faces at the same time.

For now the lady is so worried that her anxiety is contagious to Scrummy. While she is getting her confidence back, Scrummy will be learning some manners and respect.

Seven months later and after a lot of work: “From being the worst behaved puppy I have had he has turned out to be one of the best dogs to live with…….I am teaching him relaxation with the clicker.  I have a small mat which I throw on the floor and if he looks at it I click and give him a titbit on the mat without saying anything.  I then progressed to him having his paws on the mat and then to sitting on the mat and now to lying down on the mat.  My aim is to continue to click and reward for any sign of relaxation, such as head lowering etc.  A friend asked me to help her with her obedience training today and so after training she and her husband and dog came into my kitchen for a coffee.  I had been telling her about this relaxation training so thought I would try it.  I bought him into the kitchen and threw down his mat and after a few minutes he was lying on the mat and did not show any attention to the people or dog present.  I feel this is a real step forward to teaching him to relax in the presence of strangers etc.  I was really pleased with the progress he made today.  Yes, at them moment his mind is geared towards how do I get the titbit but also his mind is not thinking about people and other dogs, so I thought a huge step forward”.